BVNW rallies, defeats Olathe East 4-2 in state quarterfinals

In their state quarterfinal matchup against Olathe East, the varsity baseball team advanced with a 4-2 victory. Senior Johnny Sprinkle allowed just 2 hits en route to the Huskies victory.

Gabe Swartz, Sports Editor

Through six innings of play in the state quarterfinal Thursday afternoon in Lawrence, Kan. the BVNW bats were held silent. The Huskies trailed the Hawks from Olathe East 2-0 heading into the top of the seventh inning.

In the seventh inning, senior Mitchell Bloss lead off the inning with a walk after falling into an early 0-2 count. Junior Drew Black followed Bloss with a hard hit ground ball which made its way into center field for BVNW’s fifth hit of the day. With Bloss and Black situated on first and second, head coach Corby Lange instructed junior first baseman Holden Missey to bunt. After two attempts, Missey abandoned the bunt and eventually worked his way to a walk to load the bases for the Huskies with no outs.

After previously escaping a bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth inning by getting junior Josh Fiene to ground into a double-play, Olathe East head coach John McDonald decided he had seen enough from Hawks pitcher Spencer Nelson, removing him before he could face this bases-loaded situation.

Two Husky batters later, there were two outs and the bases still loaded. Senior Riley Zerni stepped up to the plate, and saw an 0-1 curveball plunk his leg, forcing Black home, to close the deficit to just one run. After seeing a first-pitch fastball at the knees called for a strike, senior Jacob Sula said doubt crept into his mind.

“I started doubting myself at the beginning [of the at-bat],” says Sula, “but then I realized that it was [potentially] the last time I’d be on the field and just give it my best hack and it worked out.”

But with the next pitch, another fastball, Sula lined the ball into left field, scoring pinch-running sophomore Ryan Freiermuth to tie the game, and freshman Ryan Callahan slid his hand across home plate, evading the tag of the Hawks catcher to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead.

“Coach [Lange] told me right away. He’s like ‘we’re going to send you, we’re going to take the chance,’” Callahan said of scoring the game-winning runs. “Right away when [Sula] hit that ball, I was just thinking outside part of the plate and I turned the bag and I didn’t see him with the ball yet, and then when I saw him catch the ball at home, I was already past the plate.”

“It’s awesome,” Sula, who finished the game 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a double said. “It’s just so much to know that four years of hard work paid off for that one hit.”

Senior catcher Connor Ellefson followed up Sula’s 2-run single with a bloop single to right field which scored Zerni, and gave the Huskies an insurance run, stretching the lead to 4-2.

With a 2-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, senior Johnny Sprinkle took the mound after allowing 2 hits and no earned runs through six innings of work. On the first pitch of the inning, Sprinkle induced a pop-up that fell near the Huskies dugout. Missey made his way from his first base position towards the railing of the BVNW dugout, leaned his 6-foot-3 frame over the railing and held onto the catch as he went tumbling onto the dugout floor.

He really kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”

— Connor Ellefson

Missey said that Sprinkle’s work on the mound for the day was impressive and something that made tumbling into the dugout worthwhile.

“Johnny is a great warrior,” the junior first baseman said. “He works really hard. He commands the zone, and he trusts his teammates a lot.”

The second Olathe East batter of the inning grounded into the hole between shortstop and third, where Callahan ranged to field the ball, gathered and fired to Missey at first for the second out of the inning. After Callahan made two early crucial errors which led to 2 OEHS runs, Sprinkle said he knew he could trust Callahan because of the freshmen’s mental toughness.

“We were in the dugout and we talked about [the errors] and he said he was all good,” Sprinkle said. “So I knew that after he told me that, if he’s all set mentally that as soon as a ball got hit to him again, he was going to make the play for me.”

With all of the early issues, Ellefson said it was impressive to see Sprinkle fight through adversity and keep the Huskies in the game.

“We had some hiccups and we got down two,” Ellefson said. “And it was pretty cool that he could stay that well and keep pounding it that well after that, and he really kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”

Sprinkle completed his 2-hit masterpiece by squeezing the final out on a pop-up, calling off the rest of the infield to make the play that would send the Huskies to the state semifinals. The Huskies senior pitcher said he knew, despite the early errors and the 2-0 deficit for the Huskies that he could only worry about what he could control.

“I had originally thought OK I’m going to put us on my shoulders, but I had to get that thought out of my head immediately because if I try and do that, then I’m pitching out of my game,” Sprinkle said. “I had to put all my faith in the world in those guys, and I would go to battle any day of the week with those guys, any hour, against any team. I love my boys and I knew that they were going to get [the runs] for me.”

And they did. The Huskies seventh inning rally, combined with Sprinkle’s complete game effort, propelled Blue Valley Northwest to the state semifinals, where the Huskies will play the Manhattan Indians Friday May 26 at 11 a.m. at Hoglund Ballpark.